It’s perfectly natural to want to eliminate a bed bug infestation without spending a ton of money on professional-grade products or a treatment by a pest control operator. When people discover that they have bed bugs, they often turn to do-it-yourself recommendations from discussions on the Internet. These suggestions might include household items, some of which are recommended more often than others. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most popular items and how they might be used against bed bugs:
First up is the most commonly recommended tool by far: rubbing alcohol diluted in water. This is suggested because alcohol can kill bed bugs on contact, and evaporates shortly after, so it’s considered safe for use pretty much anywhere in a home. A recurring theme in these recommendations are household items that are considered to be safer for people than mainstream chemicals.
While alcohol can kill bed bugs on contact, it’s not going to kill nearly enough of bed bugs to be considered effective. In lab studies, even 99 percent concentrations of alcohol only killed between 40% to 60% of the adults that were sprayed. On top of that, alcohol has no long-lasting residual effect, and doesn’t affect bed bug eggs. 60% sounds good, but a contact killer should be able to kill a lot closer to 100% of the bed bugs you see. Otherwise, a shoe or a blowtorch would be the more reliable tool for the job. (Editor’s note: please don’t use a blowtorch.)
In a bed bug treatment, alcohol is basically an attempt to fill the role of a contact spray, which is an insecticide spray that kills bed bugs on contact. These sprays are proven to kill at a higher rate than rubbing alcohol could manage, and are extremely versatile in where they can be applied. Pair contact sprays with a couple of residual sprays, and you have a combination of chemicals that will kill bed bugs quickly now, and keep killing over the next few weeks.
The next recommendation is a mixture of essential oils. You might see one of many oils or combinations of oils in online discussion, whether it’s clove oil, cedar wood, lavender, or a combination of mint oils. The use of these against bed bugs dates back centuries, as their simple method of suffocating the bugs predates the use of sophisticated chemical killers.
The use of various oils against bed bugs is encouraged by various studies that have shown these oils successfully killing bed bugs. However, those tests tend to use bed bugs that do not have the opportunity to feed on anyone. In real-world scenarios, where the bugs can still reach a person and feed after being sprayed, they usually survive.
The main reason people seem to favor the essential oil option is that it’s considered a natural and chemical-free alternative to pesticide sprays. What they don’t realize is that today’s home pesticides are carefully regulated by the EPA to make sure that they’re safe for indoor use. The EPA also requires that health and safety guidelines are included in the product label and MSDS, to ensure that anyone who uses a spray has instructions on how to use it safely and effectively. When used correctly, even our strongest bed bug sprays won’t have any effect on you, but they will kill bed bugs more effectively than any mixture of household items like herbs or oils.
Oil-based products have been so frequently touted as natural bed bug killers that they’ve even attracted government intervention. The Federal Trade Commission has charged multiple companies with deceptive advertising for overhyping their cedar oil-based products’ ability to treat an infestation. By claiming that their products can stop and prevent bed bug infestations, these marketers opened the door to government lawsuits for misleading their customers.
Another common suggestion is to use either double-sided tape or Vaseline. The theory is that you can stop bed bugs from climbing the legs of your bed by applying these to the legs. Unfortunately, report after report from customers has indicated that these solutions simply don’t work. I hear all the time about bed bugs crawling right over Vaseline, carpet tape, and other adhesive traps like glue boards.
If a trap method does not effectively stop bed bugs, then I wouldn’t consider it. Instead, I would recommend a set of ClimbUp Insect Interceptors. These are pitfall traps that go under the legs of your bed and trap bed bugs in a talcum-lined pitfall that is too slick and smooth for them to climb out of. ClimbUp Interceptors have been proven over the years to be effective, and are an essential part of our recommended treatment process.
Bed bugs are highly vulnerable to heat; exposing them to a certain amount of direct heat will kill them instantly, while lower temperatures can kill them in a matter of minutes. This is why many forms of heat treatments are recommended. Some methods, such as steamers and portable heaters, have been proven effective through professional use and are quickly becoming standard issue in holistic treatment arsenals.
Some less proven heat weapons have been suggested online, such as clothes irons. Clothes irons might reach the temperature needed to kill bed bugs, but the heat won’t penetrate deep into soft materials to where bed bugs might be hiding. You also can’t iron areas besides clothes and sheets, like cracks and crevices in walls, floors, and furniture. The metal surface and high surface heat would damage many of the materials it wasn’t designed to be used on.
A hair dryer might seem like a safer way to kill bed bugs with heat. Unfortunately, their maximum temperature is rarely more than 150 degrees. That heat level can kill bed bugs, but only if you maintain the heat over them for several minutes. So unless you want to follow each bug you see around with a hair dryer until they eventually die, you’d probably be better off just hitting them with the thing.
Just to be clear, you can kill bed bugs with heat. It’s just a matter of using the right equipment. A high-pressure steamer is the weapon of choice for killing bed bugs on contact, since their steam can surpass 200 degrees, and can penetrate deep into soft materials like mattresses and upholstered furniture. You can also use a steamer on more than just clothes or other fabrics; a steamer can kill bed bugs hiding along baseboards, floorboards, window sills, door frames, and the edges of the carpet.
If you need to treat items that can’t be laundered or steamed, you can use a portable bed bug heater, like a ZappBug Oven or a ThermalStrike Ranger. These heaters can safely treat household items like books, papers, CDs, and dry clean only clothing. Not only are bed bug heaters an effective part of a bed bug treatment process, but they’re one of the most popular prevention tools on the market. When you come home from a trip, just put your suitcase in the heater, zip it shut, and turn it on. In just a few hours, any bed bugs or eggs hiding in your belongings will be dead.
A lot of DIY bed bug recommendations involving household items stem from the desire to solve your bed bug problem without spending money or resorting to chemicals. Unfortunately, these recommendations don’t always pan out. Bloggers and forum posters usually aren’t professionals (this blog author being one of the exceptions). They haven’t done the same research, and they tend not to have much experience getting rid of bed bugs themselves.
When professionals need to treat an infestation, they don’t reach for rubbing alcohol or cedar oil or a blow dryer. They use a proven treatment process that involves a combination of proven products to get the job done. It’s not about whether or not a certain item can kill bed bugs, it’s about whether that item is the ideal part of a treatment that will actually get rid of an infestation. After all, your shoe would have a 100% kill rate on any bed bugs you smack with it – that doesn’t mean you can expect to be bed bug free after a diligent afternoon of shoe-wielding.